• Andrew Busby

Putting Covid In Its Place, One Pint At A Time

July 19th happens to be quite a significant date not just for me (it's my birthday you see) but for all of us, because that's when it looks increasingly likely that we are all going to be allowed to return to running our lives as normal, you know, like we used to. Except we're not.

Because if there's one thing that the Covid pandemic has done, it is to disrupt the equilibrium permanently. And rather than continue to yearn for things to 'return to normal', isn't it about time we put Covid in its place?

In Singapore, they're already making plans to do this, treating it as endemic and focusing on the clinical condition of people rather than the number of cases. And whilst I'm no epidemiologist (before March last year I hadn't a clue what one was) this seems to be an eminently sensible way of unlocking society and returning the economy to some kind of stability.

In England, a kind of euphoric state (driven in no small part by our relative success in some football tournament) is taking hold. The lure of once again standing at the bar, talking nonsense with our mates, has become tantalisingly close. And with it a return to normal. Publicans desperate to once more pull pints with impunity and to be able to throw open their doors, free of the shackles that have bound them for so long. Or so we think.

Because in the post lockdown world, it is all going to be about repairing the damage and rebuilding. Just as natural disasters regularly affect parts of the world to devastating effect, Covid has hit the entire world. And we are now entering that rebuilding phase.

Post Covid Future

In the post Covid future, new expectations will emerge and the challenge for businesses of all types will be to not only meet, but exceed those expectations. Because whilst there are those who cannot wait for the easing of restrictions, there are those who absolutely dread it. As a direct result of the pandemic, more and more people are asking themselves what they want out of life. And this is exacerbated by the fact that many of us entered the pandemic in different boats and we are slowly exiting the pandemic wondering if we're still afloat or have been permanently holed beneath the waterline.

According to mental health charity Mind, in England, 55% of the 10,000 adults who took part in a survey are worried about seeing and being near others. And from the same research, a total of 1 in 4 adults and more than 1 in 6 young people experienced mental distress for the first time during the pandemic.

And this means that businesses, especially those in hospitality - who have been hit the hardest - are going to have to do the most to cater for these new attitudes and behaviours. Throwing open the doors will only entice back a particular cohort of customers. Because the stark truth is that the regulars won't turn a profit.

Power Struggle

Long before Covid, we know that the advance of digital was gaining pace. And the pandemic has created a vacuum into which it has gleefully accepted an invitation to march right in. And it is that combination of the Covid cautious cohort and digital which has created a power struggle between traditional physical premises, whether they be retail or hospitality, and their digital counterparts.

More than ever before, we need a reason to return, and to be able to return safely. And, in this context, safe means smart. Whether it be booking and appointment apps, livestream video, smart fitting rooms, QR codes, scanning apps, AI powered cleaning regimes, electrostatic cleaning, air ionisation - the list goes on, physical cannot expect to open the doors and we will come.

The Covid cautious, who, according to the ONS / Mintel, represent 35% of us, are not about to rush back anytime soon. They have become used to and content with their new bespoke lives and want things on their terms. A new incentive is going to be needed in order to entice them back.

The good news is that the world war against Covid is being won, however it is the civil war between physical and digital which is about to rage. And the implications of it are only just dawning. Because the journey back to the future won't simply be safe, above all, it will need to be smart.

Andrew Busby is co-founder of SafePrem Solutions

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